A little discretion goes a long way

Privacy is an interesting thing.  I’m a pretty private guy in general, and my friends have called me on it more than once.  I generally don’t volunteer information, and people who don’t specifically ask will often not know much about what I’m up to.  I’m not averse to talking about myself; I just don’t do it unless I’m sure that someone wants to know.  If nothing else, it’s a useful barometer for recognising which people in my life care enough to bother asking how I’m doing.

(It’s a bit of a breakthrough that I even have this blog.  The compromise, of course, is that I don’t tell anyone it exists.  I’m still confused about where most of my readers came from.)

Anyway, I live on the ground floor, and I never cared for how people walking by could look in my windows.  To this, most people ask, “Why on earth would anyone be looking in your window in the first place?”  And, really, people who go looking in random windows and catch me walking around naked deserve what they get.  But still, for the good of everyone involved, I finally went to Home Depot and spent the whopping $20 for some “privacy film” to put on the lower halves of my windows.  It’s designed for shower doors (um… so people in the shower don’t have to look at people on the toilet, or vice-versa, I guess?), but it also works beautifully at blocking casual glances from the street.

(It’s a shame I put the film on so badly.  If anyone reading this ever thinks about using this product, just spend the extra $8 and get the application kit.  The tools in there will make it look a lot less like you hired a team of retarded monkeys in blindfolds to apply the film.)

My perspective on windows isn’t shared by everyone I know.  “That’s where I masturbate!” a friend cheerfully told me when I observed how her window-side bed is in plain view of an entire apartment building across the street.  She walks around naked with the blinds up all the time.  Total strangers almost certainly see her; she doesn’t care.  Of course, being seen by strangers is a little different from being seen by people you know, but I doubt she’d really mind either way.

This raises an interesting point about privacy, and how it goes two ways.  I don’t mean this in the sense that everyone should respect the privacy of others as they would want others to respect their own (although, that’s certainly true; do unto others, and whatnot).  Instead, I’m thinking more that it’s important to be aware of what other people want or need to know.

When I lived in a university residence hall, I met plenty of people who didn’t understand that privacy works both ways.  There was a person who liked to use the restroom with the stall door open.  “I don’t care if other people can see me,” she said.  Well, you know what?  Other people care; they don’t want to see that.  An infamous resident, who went through three roommates in one semester, would masturbate aggressively in his bunk at night while the roommate was trying to sleep, moanin’ and groanin’ and shaking the bed.  He didn’t seem to care if the roommate knew what was going on, but the roommates (even issues of seismic comfort notwithstanding) certainly did.

(I always wondered what he was doing to himself that was so amazing he couldn’t help but make a spectacle of it.  He’d probably have told me if I’d asked.  I did not ask.)

This all comes down to an understanding of what the people around you want or need to be exposed to.  Sometimes, “I don’t care if other people find out,” really just means “I don’t care if other people will be hurt.”  I know someone who would rather hurt people and end friendships than shut up.  On the other hand, my friend with the exhibitionist tendencies probably isn’t hurting anyone by walking around naked in her apartment, but is that only because she’s young and attractive?  I’m willing to bet that her neighbours would be less accepting of her high level of body comfort if she were seventy, hairy, and in the latter stages of elephant-man disease.  Even as she is, it’s still possible that someone across from her apartment is thinking, “Oh dammit, she’s doing it again!  Now I have to close my blinds.”

(Of course, she probably has a dozen other neighbours who respond with, “She’s doing it again!  Quick, call the guys!  Where are the damn binoculars?!”)

When it comes right down to it, I don’t share much about my life at least partly because I’m not sure anyone wants to hear it (and, for a similar reason, I don’t press my naked body up against the street-level windows of my apartment).  Whether I care about sharing isn’t really the point; other people might not be keen, or might simply be better off in the dark.

Now, I cheerfully admit that I’m oversensitive, but I really do think that in general people need to have a less self-centered notion of personal privacy.  Too many people think, “I don’t care, and therefore no one else will either,” as if all people are on exactly the same wavelength about everything.

Don’t tell the entire world about your cold sore.  Unless you’ve got the right audience, keep your dangly bits to yourself.  And, if you’re going to sleep with the wrong people, at least have the common courtesy to shut the hell up about it so no one is hurt.

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